Passenger Rail, Workforce, Certification & Training

Melbourne’s train, tram workers set to strike

Melbourne Tram. Photo:

Staff from Melbourne’s Metro Trains and Yarra Trams network say they will strike for four hours next week, as employers and unions are still millions of dollars apart in employment negotiations.

The Rail Tram & Bus Union (RTBU) is negotiating with Yarra Trams and Metro Trains, over two separate enterprise bargaining agreements.

Unhappy with negotiations and growing impatient, the union last month balloted both sets of employees, who in each case voted to allow the union to use a number of industrial actions.

This week, the union announced it plans to use those powers.

A four hour stop-work on both Yarra Trams and Metro Trains will take place between 10am and 2pm on Friday, August 21, the RTBU announced on Wednesday, August 12.

On top of that, workers will leave gates open, and will refuse to issue infringements or check passengers’ Myki tickets on Wednesday, August 19, and Friday, August 21, effectively making those days ‘free travel days’ for passengers.

The measures are among those granted to the union by the employees’ ballots, which were approved by the Fair Work Commission to take place in July.

“Despite further negotiations with Metro Trains yesterday we are still a long way from securing a new enterprise agreement,” RTBU secretary Luba Grigorovitch.

“Our members are concerned that Metro is trying to strip away hard-won conditions. The RTBU is determined to ensure this doesn’t happen and we will fight to protect and improve the conditions of our members.”

RTBU tram and bus divisional secretary Phil Altieri said negotiations with Yarra Trams weren’t going much better in recent weeks, either.

“Our members at Yarra Trams are frustrated at the lack of progress in securing a new agreement and have been left with no option but to take industrial action,” Altieri explained.

Grigorovitch said stop work meetings would be held during the Friday stoppage, with a midday rally planned for Flinders Street Station.

There is a chance, of course, that the industrial action doesn’t take place. Should negotiations progress or resolve entirely, the union would have reason to cancel the measures.

“Further meetings are scheduled with Yarra Trams and Metro Trains over coming days and we will continue to negotiate in good faith,” Grigorovitch said.

“We would prefer to avoid industrial action if an agreement can be reached before next Friday. If agreement is not reached our members have made it clear they will proceed with industrial action.”

Unfortunately, however, it appears that the union and Yarra Trams – at least – are still financially a long way apart on the deal.

Tram drivers are asking for an 18% pay rise over their next three year enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) – 6% per annum.

Yarra Trams said on Wednesday it has offered the union a 10% increase over three years – roughly 3.3% per annum – but the operator isn’t making any indication it plans to go any higher.

“Yarra Trams remains committed to reaching a fair and balanced agreement and keeping trams moving so that people in the community can continue their lives as normal,” the company said. “We don’t believe industrial action is necessary.

“Our offer of 10 per cent remains on the table and we are making progress towards reaching an agreement.”

Altieri was forced to defend the 18% pay increase demand on 3AW radio in July, saying he thought a 6% per annum pay rise was reasonable.

“The thing that’s got under the skin of [tram drivers] is that we know that Yarra Trams has substantially increased revenue over the last year … all the while, our members are getting their current terms and conditions,” Altieri said.

“Yarra Trams … say ‘You can get more, but what are you going to give up to get more?’ So they want us to compromise our terms and conditions in order to get half a decent wage increase.”

Show host Nick McCallum suggested the pay rise was so high as to hold the union up to ridicule, but Altieri disagreed.

“No, not really, I don’t think [6% per annum is too high],” he answered.

“Yarra Trams have increased their revenue … on the back of our members’ hard work. The reason they’re making more money is because our members are being more productive. Fare evasion is at its lowest level ever … that makes a big impression on their bottom line, and they don’t want to recognise the workers.”

“But is six percent realistic?” McCallum asked.

“I think it is,” Altieri answered. “When you consider what the company is making, it’s reasonable.”

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